Court Of Appeals Allows Public Defender Lawsuit To Proceed
FRIDAY, MAY 07, 2010

The New York Court of Appeals on May 6 reinstated a lawsuit charging that New York State in five counties is depriving low-income individuals charged with crime of their right to counsel. Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told the Wall Street Journal that "Criminal defense programs across the country are experiencing increased caseloads and decreased funding. He said similar suits claiming that indigent defendants have been deprived of the right to counsel have been filed in other states.

States are required to provide representation to criminal defendants who cannot afford to pay for their own lawyers, according to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1963 ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright. The New York case charges that five counties —Onodaga, Ontario, Schuyler, Washington and Suffolk—provided such inferior criminal attorneys that defendants were effectively deprived of the right to counsel New York's highest court ruled 4 to 3 that the suit could proceed because it raised fundamental questions about the fairness of the criminal justice system. “Wrongful conviction, the ultimate sign of a criminal justice system’s breakdown and failure, has been documented in too many cases,” the decision, written by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, said.

In April, 2009, the State Legislature and the Governor adopted landmark legislation to address caseloads for attorneys representing individuals charged with crimes in New York City. The new law authorizes the New York State court system to establish caseload standards for lawyers assigned to represent indigent criminal defendants in New York City. Enactment of the law follows landmark discussions between the Unified Court System and The Legal Aid Society on ensuring appropriate caseloads for indigent defense attorneys.